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Music Paralegals

A look at legal assistants in this unique specialty.

By Rachel Ng

May/June 2005 Table of Contents


Songwriters, instrumentalists, record producers, sound engineers, backup vocalists — a platinum-selling record is a collaboration of numerous creative and talented professionals. Unbeknownst to most, the backbone to every record deal launching a successful talent is a first-rate legal team.

Before the latest hit tune is played on the radio, a team of entertainment lawyers and paralegals work hard to crank out the contract details of the artist’s rights and obligations.

“It’s satisfying to know I played a small part in an artist’s career when I hear them on the radio, see an article about them in a national publication or when they give an acceptance speech when they win an award,“ said entertainment paralegal Sharyse Leclaire of Greenberg Traurig in Atlanta.

Track 1 – The Players

As a paralegal with 13 years experience in the entertainment field, Leclaire loves her job at Greenberg Traurig. “I enjoy challenges, which can be overwhelming at times, but an answer can always be found,” she said. “I thrive in a fast-paced environment, and I enjoy learning something new every day.”

Although her duties fluctuate from day to day, Leclaire’s primary function is to assist the firm’s entertainment attorneys. “It can go from filing copyright applications to preparing initial drafts of recording, producer, mixer, management and termination agreements for the attorneys,” she said. “I can be asked to draft letters for an attorney on behalf of a client advising the contracting party they have failed to perform certain obligations under the agreement. I also summarize various agreements and translate them into ‘plain English’ so the clients know exactly what they are signing.”

In addition, Leclaire affiliates clients with public performance societies, such as Broadcast Music Inc., The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, SESAC (formerly known as the Society of European Stage Authors & Composers) and The Harry Fox Agency. She researches and confirms her client’s writer or publisher splits for licensing requests and researches other writers or publishers to obtain mechanical and synchronization licenses on behalf of her clients.

Emily Hay is an entertainment paralegal at Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca, Fischer, Gilbert-Lurie, Stiffelman & Cook in Los Angeles, a leading transactional entertainment law firm representing clients in music, motion picture, television and multimedia areas.

Hay specializes in music contract negotiations and copyright law, and has worked with various artists including Foo Fighters, Perry Farrell, Beck, Fleetwood Mac, Macy Gray, Korn, Goo Goo Dolls, Weezer, Nelly and Graham Nash, to name a few.

Hay started working for Ziffren, Brittenham in 2003, and she assists in career and contract negotiations, as well as negotiating, drafting and executing all forms of entertainment contracts. In addition, she acts as a liaison between artists and record companies.

“I like working to protect musicians’ rights and their intellectual property and assets,” Hay said.

Leslie Stevens is a corporate and trademark paralegal at Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown in Beverly Hills, Calif. The firm deals with general transactional representation in the entertainment industries and also provides counseling and representation in connection with intellectual property, personal business matters, wealth transfers and real estate. Although Gang, Tyre is a relatively small firm — with 15 attorneys and 40 staff members — it represents major entertainment clients. The firms’ partners include Donald S. Passman, author of the music industry bible “All You Need to Know About the Music Business,” whose clients include Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, R.E.M. and Tina Turner, in addition to Bruce Ramer, who represents Steven Spielberg.

Stevens’ clients include record companies, executives and musical groups. With 16 years of experience, she handles anything and everything to do with private corporations and is the liaison to the firm’s trademark counsel. “I handle all the work for the trademark work our clients are involved in,” she said.

Karen A. Pals has been working in the field of entertainment law since 1986. Pals is a paralegal specializing in music and new media at Carroll, Guido & Groffman in Los Angeles. The firm’s clients include musicians, songwriters, producers, independent record companies, Internet and new technologies companies, music business professionals and a variety of other clients related to the entertainment and new media industries.

Her daily responsibilities include working with the firm’s attorneys to provide publishing administration; trademark, copyright and Internet domain information and registrations; business entity information, formation and related documents; and a variety of contracts and other legal documents.

Pals said she has enjoyed her work as an entertainment paralegal since day one because she constantly is learning new things and because it’s … well, entertaining.

“Some of the interesting projects on which I have worked include obtaining rights to use music in films, TV programs, video games and on mobile phones,” she said. “It’s always interesting to work on the formation of new business entities involving a new business model, a music tour, purchase of a publishing catalog or other activities a client plans to pursue.”

She said it’s particularly interesting when a project benefits a good cause, such as medical expense reimbursement for uninsured musicians, supporting public school education, raising money to research cures for a disease or encouraging young people to vote.

Track 2 – Getting Started

Before Hay was an entertainment paralegal, she was a trained flutist, vocalist and pianist, and toured and performed throughout Europe, Canada and the United States. She received her master’s of fine arts from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, Calif., and a bachelor’s of fine arts from Bard College in New York. She also attended one year of law school and has 20 years of experience in entertainment legal and business affairs.

Hay’s career as an entertainment paralegal started in 1993 when she began working for Loeb & Loeb, based in Los Angeles, where she administered client music publishing catalogs, negotiated and drafted international subpublishing, co-publishing and administration, songwriter and record producer agreements, and more. She has worked for several other prominent Los Angeles entertainment law firms, including King, Holmes, Paterno & Berliner, where she was based for several years and received experience and mentoring, which proved to be pivotal in her career.

Hay said she decided to become an entertainment paralegal to broaden her work experience and exposure in the entertainment industries. “I didn’t want to become stuck doing one thing or having an expertise in only one aspect of the business,” she said. “As an entertainment paralegal, I represent many different types of clients from many different perspectives. The work is varied and complex.”

Working in the legal field since 1989, Leclaire was a legal assistant at a New York law firm with a small entertainment department. She attended Baruch College in New York City, majoring in business management and contract law, but she never completed the necessary courses to obtain a degree.

In May 1995, Leclaire was given the opportunity to move to Atlanta and work with well-known entertainment attorney Joel Katz. She started out as a legal assistant for one of Katz’ associates, Steve Sidman. “I was becoming bored with the work. I felt I achieved all I could in that position, and I inquired about assisting the attorneys in a way that would be more beneficial,” she said. “At that point, having worked in some capacity with each attorney in the firm, [they] believed I had the knowledge and took a chance on me.” Leclaire was promoted to an entertainment paralegal in April 2000.

Prior to working as an entertainment paralegal, Pals worked at nonprofit educational organizations. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles and a master’s degree from Columbia University in New York. “I decided to become an entertainment paralegal when I realized my love of music was so strong that I wanted to work with other people who also love music,” she said. “I wanted my work to involve helping musicians, songwriters and other people involved with music.”

To find a position in the entertainment industry, Pals researched entertainment industry organizations for about a year. She also started reading Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety to keep current on entertainment industry news.

Her first entertainment-related job was working for the music legal department of a film studio. “I drafted legal correspondence and contracts, with the input and supervision of an entertainment attorney,” she said. “When the attorney decided to return to private legal practice, I started working at that firm, continuing to draft some film music contracts, but also expanding to facilitating a wide variety of other legal documents and client matters.” Although Pals does not have any formal paralegal training, she has taken UCLA Extension classes in the music legal area relevant to her position. She also keeps up by reading entertainment law books.

Stevens started working as a paralegal at Gang, Tyre in 1989. She is a certified legal secretary and has an associate’s degree from El Camino College, where she took classes dealing with law and real estate.

Stevens said she pursued a paralegal career because she didn’t want to be someone’s assistant and wanted to be able to be financially independent. “Law seemed to be something that I ‘got.’ It makes sense to me, and I still enjoy the legal world. I am continually fascinated by it, and it pays well,” she said.

Track 3 – Know the Business

Before Pals started working in entertainment law, a number of people told her it was not realistic or likely for her to find work in the field because it’s so competitive. That didn’t deter her. “There is a high demand for this type of work,” she said. However, she noticed many people seeking this type of work have not developed the essential skills to compete, such as good writing and interpersonal skills. “It’s very helpful to be a good problem solver, to pay attention to detail, and of course, to enjoy helping people and providing services to clients,” she said.

Hay said it’s important to understand the nuances of the entertainment business and law not necessarily taught at any school. “I think that experience and confidence are the best qualifications anyone can have,” said Hay, who also attended the UCLA Entertainment Law Institute and took a course on film music supervision.

Although Hay isn’t involved in any paralegal associations, she is involved in music, entertainment and copyright organizations, and attends events by such groups as the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, ASCAP and The Producer’s Guild.

Hay said a successful entertainment paralegal should have the ability to read and comprehend language and to communicate effectively and efficiently; to read documents and agreements of all kinds and to understand the contents and implications; to see the big picture and to be detail-oriented and organized; to work efficiently and pleasantly under pressure; to have expert computer and Internet skills; and to do research independently.

Stevens’ advice to paralegals interested in entertainment law is to learn all aspects of the law, especially contracts and litigation. She also stressed the importance of education and continuing education. She added that a successful paralegal always should have a good follow-up system in place and be able to handle what he or she is working on — beyond what the attorney has assigned.

Leclaire agreed with Stevens that to be a successful entertainment paralegal, it’s important to learn the business inside and out. “If necessary, start out at the bottom. Be inquisitive, interested and flexible,” she said. “Always remember you are working with very creative people and sometimes you have to be open to new ways of thinking and communicating.”

Leclaire said she acquired most of her knowledge by working as an assistant and watching how attorneys worked and interacted with clients.

Since working for Katz, Leclaire said she has learned a lot about the mechanics of the music business “from the financial side, to ownership rights, to concessions labels are willing to make to keep a successful act.” She added, “I also have learned no two deals are exactly the same so you must diligently read every sentence of an agreement. You also must learn to immediately adapt to any situation.”

Leclaire said many entertainment paralegals start out as assistants and rise through the ranks through hard work, determination and a love of music.

Hay agreed. “Although the basic parameters of contract and business law can and should be learned at paralegal and law school programs or via legal books, I think the most valuable information on the inner workings of the entertainment industry must be gleaned from hands-on experience and working under astute mentors,” she said. “Additionally, since the field and its players are always changing, keeping informed about current issues in the area, networking and forming personal relationships with other people in the industry (of all levels and skills) are the most valuable source for furthering one’s career.”

Hay said recognizing one’s own talents and shortcomings is essential to choosing a career path in entertainment law.

Track 4 – Experiences and Challenges

Pals said working in the entertainment industry has produced some memorable experiences, such as attending an industry event with musical performances honoring the members of Steely Dan, attending music and new media conferences to hear some of the ideas prominent musicians and music professionals are exploring and attending a fundraising event for uninsured musicians at which several accomplished musicians performed.

Hay said most aspects of working in the entertainment industry are unique. “Every day is different and the tasks and issues are varied and ever-evolving,” she said. “But I must say that going to Ozzy Osbourne’s 50th birthday party was unique for me.”

Leclaire said the entertainment field of law is different because there are times when you get personally involved with the clients. “Many artists confide in you about their finances, problems they are having with their management or record labels, problems in their personal relationships. And I have seen some artists rise to the very top, level off and then completely crash. It can be very difficult to take that kind of ride with someone.”

Stevens said she used to think entertainment law was the more glamorous law to practice, but now realizes it’s all the same. “You just recognize the names you work with.”

Pals said entertainment law appears to be different from other areas of law in that the subject matter is likely to be intrinsically entertaining and interesting. “Entertainment paralegals might have the opportunity to assist creative professionals, research song information based in part on their own knowledge of past songs, hear about upcoming musical activities and new technological ideas before they are available to the public, and even see themselves thanked on album liner notes,” she said.

“From working in the entertainment industry, I have learned it takes a lot of effort for musicians and songwriters to make a living from their music,” Pals said. “It helps a creative endeavor succeed to have a competent team of professionals supporting it.”

Track 5 – Learning More

Those interested in learning more about music and entertainment law have many continuing education options, with seminars held all around the country regarding music, film and multimedia.

“The biggest music festivals are South By Southwest in Austin, CMJ in New York City and Atlantis Music Festival in Atlanta,” Leclaire said. “These yearly conferences combine live performances, trade shows, and various seminars and panels dealing with every aspect of the music and entertainment industry.”

Leclaire said there also are mentoring programs available. “Those interested in finding something local might want to look through the American Bar Association’s Entertainment and Sports Section.”

According to Pals, in the Los Angeles area, a number of organizations provide useful seminars and meetings, such as the Association of Independent Music Publishers (www.aimp.org) and the California Copyright Conference (www.theccc.org), as well as entertainment legal classes such as those offered by UCLA Extension (www.uclaextension.edu). Pals also suggests reading books such as Richard Schulenberg’s “Legal Aspects of the Music Industry.”

Hay said attending a UCLA Extension course in film music supervision, UCLA Entertainment Law Institutes, Thomson & Thomson Forums on current intellectual property issues, as well as numerous panels, seminars and award events hosted by the NARAS, the Association of Independent Music Publishers, the California Copyright Association, Legal Strategies Institute Inc., ASCAP, BMI and other seminars on copyright law and digital media, have been great continuing education opportunities for her. She suggests reading books and publications on music licensing and law such as “This Business of Music” by M. William Krasilovsky and Sidney Shemel, and “Kohn on Music Licensing,” by Al and Bob Kohn.

Track 6 – A Foot in the Door

Although entertainment paralegal jobs are most widely available in large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York and Miami, there also are similar paralegal positions in other cities across the United States.

“I interact with entertainment paralegals in New York and California. Admittedly, most entertainment related jobs are concentrated in those cities, but there are local bands that need representation also,” Leclaire said. “I know of various firms around the country that have small- to medium-sized entertainment practices and there are boutique firms that cater to entertainers in bigger cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and so on.”

Hay said in her position, she interacts with lawyers, paralegals, executives of entertainment companies, in-house business and legal affairs attorneys, copyright specialists, royalty and contract administrators, secretaries, musicologists, artists, managers, business managers, vendors and more. “For entertainment and especially music law, I believe the jobs are concentrated in Los Angeles, New York City, London and more recently, Atlanta and Miami,” she said. “However, with the Internet, it’s now possible to conduct certain types of business from anywhere.”

Pals agreed. “Since client matters are now often conducted by means of e-mail, telephone and fax, I frequently interact with others, including entertainment paralegals, across the United States and internationally,” she said.

Entertainment paralegal positions can be found in many areas throughout the United States, and many of the positions require top-notch paralegal skills.

“My advice to people who have a strong desire to work in this area is persist in seeking an appropriate position even if others try to discourage you, and develop your writing and interpersonal skills.” Pals said. “Remember, you only need one job to get started in entertainment law.”



Rachel Ng is the former managing editor of Legal Assistant Today. She currently is the assistant copy editor/researcher at Fit Pregnancy magazine. She also freelances for several publications including Law Office Computing, LAT, and EW Woman. 



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